Rennsteige are old border and trade routes that were once used by traders with their horse-drawn carriages. There are a lot of these paths in Germany, but there’s a path that is ‘the one’ Rennsteig. We’re talking about the best-known of its kind, the high-altitude trail through the Thuringian Forest, which runs right across the mountain ridge from the Saale to the Werra. It’s an ideal setting for a three-day bike adventure along a historic inner German border.
At least, that's what I thought when I was walking along this path. You read correctly: I was hiking! Admittedly, that doesn't happen often, but it did give me the idea for this Collection. As I walked I realised that the path was perfect for cycling. So, I didn't actually cycle these Tours myself but I was able to see everything at my leisure on foot and even a little more intensively than usual. My Dalmatian Sancho helped out. 🐶
The Rennsteig is very well known among long-distance hikers. All the more astonishing, and all the better, is the fact that mountain bikers are also very welcome here. And officially too: an alternative biking route accompanies the original hiking trail right through the wonderful landscapes of the Thuringian Forest. The route is around 170 kilometres (106 mi) long, from Blankenstein on the Saale to the Eisenach district of Hörschel on the Werra. The perfect distance to make it a three-day weekend adventure.
Admittedly, at first glance the Thuringian Forest doesn't offer the adventure potential that you might find in the Alps or the Pyrenees. Nevertheless, it has everything you need to have a great time on your bike: beautiful landscapes, a healthy dose of solitude, stunning trails and accommodation ranging from comfortable hotels to peaceful shelters in the middle of the forest. If you want an adventurous bikepacking Tour with camping instead of chilling in a hotel, you absolutely can. I was amazed at how many huts there are here. You could also just set off and stop at some point when you get tired or come across a nice hut to spend the night in.
You can control the intensity of this adventure yourself; ridden in three stages – as suggested here – the route is easily doable with normal fitness. If you want to do it in two days, it's a bit more challenging. Endurance riders can even complete the entire route in one day but that really means a full, strenuous day in the saddle.
The Thuringian Forest – and the Rennsteig in particular – have one distinctive feature: there are rarely any long uphill stretches. This doesn’t mean that it won't be strenuous. On the contrary, there are many short but nasty climbs, which are easy to underestimate. So remember: even if the climb looks small and harmless, there are plenty more to come. You would be well advised to pace yourself.
You can decide for yourself how demanding the route is from a technical point of view. The marked cycle path is smoother and more even while the hiking trail is narrower, rootier and more demanding. From time to time, you ride on truly stunning hiking trails, which you can cycle on but bear in mind the hikers have priority here. At peak times, the cycle path is the more sensible option. During the week or in the off-season, however, you can expect wonderful peace and quiet so can ride either trail. You can also cycle the Rennsteig in both directions. If you start in Blankenstein, the route has around 300 metres (984 ft) less elevation gain than from Hörschel, where the route starts off rather briskly. As a result, this direction is the more strenuous.
The entire route is technically quite easy. Due to the gravel and rooty terrain though, it nevertheless quickly becomes strenuous with a hardtail. A ‘fat’ enduro bike, on the other hand, is far too much of a good thing in my opinion. My recommendation would be a firm, all-mountain, full-suspension bike with around 120 millimetres of travel or a gravel bike if you’re used to one. The important thing is that you feel comfortable on your bike – if you do, you'll be fine on the Rennsteig. Personally, I would do the Tour on a gravel bike.
As always, I travelled by train. Eisenach is well connected and from here you can reach the start in Hörschel by bike in no time. Blankenstein also has a railway station, so there's nothing to stop you having a car-free short break.
In all the stage towns, you’ll find a good selection of hotels, guesthouses and holiday flats to suit all requirements. In addition, along the route you will always find various huts, so you can also spend the nights in a traditional way. Civilisation is never really far away wherever you are on the trail so you can travel fairly light. A sleeping mat, sleeping bag, enough clothes, a few emergency spare parts and some money are all you need.
The thing with the lucky stone...
There was something else! It’s a tradition of this route that you fish a stone from the Werra or Saale rivers before the start and carry it with you the entire way. At the finish, throw it back into the water. Don't forget, this is an important part of the adventure. A little tip? Choose a very small stone. 🪨💦
Ready to get going? Create and customize your own version of this adventure using the full Tour below as a template.
Last updated: April 22, 2022
Plan your own version of this adventure in the multi-day planner based on the stages suggested in this Collection.
No matter in which direction you ride the Rennsteig, your tour always starts the same way: fishing lucky stones out of the river. In this case it is the Saale in Blankenstein. And don't ask why. That's how you do it here. Brings luck. So: first scramble to the shore, fish a nice big stone out of the…
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